Islanders vs. Lightning Odds, Series Pick, Preview: Who Will Advance to Stanley Cup Finals?

Islanders vs. Lightning Odds, Series Pick, Preview: Who Will Advance to Stanley Cup Finals? article feature image
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Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Islanders vs. Lightning Series Odds

Islanders Odds
+205
Lightning Odds
-250
Over / Under
5.5 Games (-139 / +110)
Game 1
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET
TV
NBC
Odds as of Tuesday afternoon and via DraftKings.

If I was roughly a billion times more famous, I’d have my (hypothetical) agent angling for a two-week stint for me as the host of Jeopardy!. I’m definitely that guy that likes asking the questions.

During the COVID lockdown, I even invented a make-shift trivia game for my friends to participate in remotely via Zoom called QRT. One of my pet peeves is when people do that thing, where when I ask them to guess something like  how much a 24-pack of Gatorade is, only for them to reply with some insanely low price like a dollar and ruin the point of the exercise.

So try not to be a jerk when we frame the handicap for the Stanley Cup semifinal series between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning with a guessing game to start.

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Islanders Were Actually Better In The Regular Season

The category is NHL analytics. At first instinct, with which body of work should we judge the Islanders: their regular season stats, or their playoff stats? Which would you think would be more flattering to the team finishing in fourth place in the East Division this season? 

Most would probably have guessed that their playoff stats would be the subset that the Islanders would want to be judged by after dispatching the Penguins and the Bruins. However, when it comes to the metrics that are important to me, the regular-season Islanders are a better team than this recent edition. 

Regular Season
Playoffs
Expected Goals For 5v5
1.814
1.83
Expected Goals Against 5v5
1.707
2.32
Expected Goal Share
51.5%
44.1%
High Danger Chances For 5v5 per Game
9.16
7.84
High Danger Chances Against 5v5 per Game
7.05
9.25
High Danger Chance 5v5 Conversion Rate
*14%
22.9%

*the league average conversion rate on even-strength high danger chances is 14%

The comparison starts out okay for the Islanders as their even-strength Expected Goals sit at nearly the exact same number as the regular season. However, the 2.32 Expected Goals Against number is pretty wild. By comparison, the Blues gave up 2.34 Expected Goals at even-strength in their first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche, and they got swept out so hard, you kind of forgot the Blues were even in the playoffs, didn’t you?

The Islanders have won two series despite playing at a deficit when it comes to creating offence relative to their opponent. Their High-Danger Chance numbers have flipped from their regular-season averages, that by the way, were really good and showed that they were better than their eventual fourth-place finish indicated. 

So how are they pulling this off? That’s where the last number comes in. A 22.9% High-Danger Chance conversion rate is outrageous and frankly, shouldn’t be sustainable. That’s the outlier number in the chart above, which begs the question, how did they manage such an incredible rate the last few weeks?

While it was a benefit to the Islanders in the moment, the answer is pretty simple and now kind of a bummer. New York has taken advantage of bad goaltending from their opponents. Tristan Jarry was jarringly incapable in the first round of the playoffs finishing dead last with a -5.87 GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average) . The Penguins tried to skimp on that position this year and it cost them.

In the second round, as we saw on Wednesday in Game 6, Tuukka Rask was not himself. Nagging injuries made Rask a shadow of his normal self as his play deteriorated against the Islanders to the point where he finished the playoffs with an even 0.03 GSAA. The Bruins pay Rask enough to expect him to be better than “just a guy.”

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Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.

Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.

xG numbers and advanced stats cited from Evolving Hockey, MoneyPuck and Natural Stat Trick.

Lightning Have Hit New Level In Playoffs

It’s theoretically possible for the Islanders to play better against the Lightning than they did in the first two rounds. However, given what we’ve seen from the defending champs, it doesn’t seem all that likely, does it?

Let’s take that Islanders column from above and place it next to the Lightning resume from their first two series, because unlike with the Isles, deciding which subset of metrics to use for Tampa is not up for debate. The return of Steven Stamkos and season debut of Nikita Kucherov has shown you can take the vast majority of the Lightning’s regular season numbers and run them over with a Zamboni. 

Playoff Stats Lightning Islanders
Expected Goals For 5v5 1.75 1.83
Expected Goals Against 5v5 1.84 2.32
Expected Goal Share 48.7% 44.1%
High Danger Chances For 5v5 per Game 9.45 7.84
High Danger Chances Against 5v5 per Game 7.45 9.25
High Danger Chance 5v5 Conversion Rate 13.4% 22.9%
Power Play Efficiency 41.7% 28.1%
Penalty Kill % 77.8% 61.5%
Starting Goaltender GSAA/60 min. .493 .202

Surprisingly, the Lightning haven’t been great at even-strength, being marginally outplayed by both the Panthers in Round 1 and the Hurricanes in Round 2. However, they make up for that on defence, considering goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy single-handedly drops the opponents’ Expected Goal number by half of a goal, just by stepping into the crease. Then they make up for it on offence, by creating more High-Danger Chances 5-on-5 than their opponents. 

Terrifyingly, they haven’t even converted those at an unusually high level, doing so at 13.4%. It’s the next number that’s a complete horror show if you’re a Lightning opponent. The Bolts’ 41.7% power play appears (relatively) unstoppable, and that was the case even against the Hurricanes’ top-three penalty kill. The Islanders have their own horrifying number, with their penalty kill that’s been surprisingly bad at 61.5%. 

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Betting Analysis & Pick

The minute the Islanders scored their first empty-net goal in Game 6 against the Bruins, I started putting my numbers in to crank out game and series prices before the market got their hands on sportsbooks’ offerings. My true number for Game 1 in Tampa is NYI +180/TB -180, so when the Lightning opened -180 to the Isles +160, I hoped that New York’s run would make their underdog price too good to pass up. I was wrong. Sharp bettors saw the -180 moneyline price for Tampa as fair and snapped it up, pushing the line up to -200. 

Meanwhile, my fair series price was an even -300, indicating a 75% win probability for Tampa Bay, who have the home-ice advantage, which may prove to be critical with how good the Islanders have appeared at home in Nassau. The cheapest price on the Lightning was -240, but anything close to that was gobbled up within mere hours and now, sure enough, Tampa is -300, with the Islanders at +240. The market has pushed this to a fair price to bet Tampa, but we’re no longer getting any kind of a discount. 

This can be a tough bet to make given what we’ve seen from the Islanders as they’ve advanced, but whether it’s the numbers quoted above or the personnel building those metrics, there’s only one side to look at here. 

Would it be even easier if these teams played on neutral territory? Yes, it would. Great news though, as the two teams literally played back in September in the conference finals in the NHL’s bubble. Tampa Bay won the series in six, and while there were a couple of games that could have gone either way, the Lightning had the edge in even-strength Expected Goals 13.21-10.01 and High Danger Chances 5-on-5 with 70 to the Islanders’ 49.

You’ll recall that was without Stamkos and his contribution to what might be a historically good power play. So if the Isles are planning on making up for allowing between 2 and 3.5 more High-Danger Chances than they get per game and top the Tampa special teams, that’s not a recipe for success. 

This Islanders team is a well-built team for the playoffs as they’ve shown in recent years, but the things that make them good, particularly their depth, is something the Lightning have and then some. The best case for the Islanders to win this series is built on a combination of grit and magic (thanks to their home confines and rabid crowd). I’m not willing to bet my money on that continuing against the defending champions who have shown no signs of slowing down. 

Pick: TB -180 or better in Game 1 / TB to win series if NYI can win either Game 1 or Game 2

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